As politicians and labor leaders were falling over each other at a City Hall news conference to say how much they were in solidarity with Stella D’oro workers in the Bronx – and how they would “stand by” them – managers on 237th Street were shutting the plant down and putting 155 people out of work. Mike Filippou, a lead mechanic at the plant for 14 years and Local 50’s chief shop steward at the plant, described what happened when he got back up to the Bronx after the news conference ended.
“When the 3pm shift left the plant, the managers wouldn’t let in the workers who had come to work the next shift,” he said. “They said, ‘you’re not working today.’ They surprised us today,” he continued. “They didn’t let anyone in to work, just a few people to pick up things from their lockers.”
“People started screaming, ‘we’re workers, united and we’ll never be defeated,” he said. “There was crying. It was so bad. It was a very emotional day today.” The shift that was turned back at the door included about 50 workers, most of them women, most immigrants – but in contrast to many in New York, these immigrant workers had held their jobs for decades and were making upwards of $18 an hour. No more.
Filippou got the call that something was afoot at the plant in the middle of the news conference, he said. He headed back uptown with Local 50 President Joyce Alston, who, standing outside the gated plant, who had harsh words for Brynwood Partners, the hedge fund that bought the company two years ago and brought on the longest strike in company history. “In over 30 years of negotiating contracts, these are the most arrogant and egotistical people I’ve ever dealt with,” she said.
What’s next? A rally has been called at the plant for Friday, October 9th from 3pm to 7pm. Filippou and members of the Stella D’oro workers solidarity committee say that machinery purchased by Brynwood to upgrade the plant was bought courtesy of New York City taxpayer funding, as part of a deal to keep jobs in the Bronx. Now that the company has broken the deal, they say, the machinery shouldn’t be allowed to follow the new company’s owners to Ohio. They want the equipment impounded. Saying the same thing was local Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who put out a press release today calling Brynwood a “vulture equity company,” and saying he demands that Mayor Bloomberg have the machinery seized. Whether this will add up to enough to help the workers is an open question. Filippou, ever the optimist, declares, “I say it’s not over yet.”